I read today that the Los Angeles Conservancy got the owners of the Century Plaza Hotel to agree to preserve the key historic features of the hotel in their plan to develop the property. (My prior post on that dispute is here.) Coincidentally, I saw a post today on Victoria Pynchon’s blog about a preservation dispute in Dallas, raising the question whether internet comments on newspaper blogs and similar forums can assist in resolving such disputes.
Of course public comments can be helpful in putting ideas on the table, and in ascertaining the extent of public support for preservation of an historic landmark, or for the development that threatens that landmark. But commenting on Victoria’s post reminded me that what really helps get public disputes like these settled is pressure from the decision-making body on both the preservationists and the developer to reach a solution that satisfies both sides’ interests. Or as I like to say when I have represented the preservationists, all we want is a better project. In the case of the Century Plaza Hotel, it took effort by a city council member to induce the parties to come to the table to hammer out a solution. In a dispute over the development of the Cinerama Dome property in Hollywood, in which I represented the Los Angeles Conservancy, we were able to obtain the developer’s commitment to modify their project to preserve the property’s historic features, but only after the agency responsible for approving the project told the developer they must make efforts to satisfy the preservationists before the project would be approved. I was involved in a similar process with an apartment project in Beverly Hills, where the City Council actually convened a mediation session in the middle of a City Council meeting to put pressure on both the developer and the preservationists to reach an agreement. I also worked on the failed effort to preserve the Ambassador Hotel, which was demolished to make way for a school. The difference in that case was that the judge, while careful to listen to every point of view during the hearing, was also not inclined to delay her decision in order to pressure the school district into accepting a negotiated solution.
Often judges feel that the best way to induce parties to settle a case is to set a trial date, and to stick to it. When the parties are forced to bear the cost of preparing for trial, and get close enough to contemplate the risk of losing, settlement often becomes a more attractive alternative. But with public disputes over historic preservation and similar issues, where the interests at stake may be broader than those contemplated by the parties involved, the best result may not always be obtained by rushing a decision. If developers know that they must satisfy the community’s concerns before they can proceed with a project, they are much more likely to be responsive to those concerns, and much more willing to sit down with the community’s advocates to reach a solution.
(Photo of the Ambassador Hotel from lageneology.)